Unions have welcomed a new law that will make it a criminal offence to assault emergency workers including police, paramedics, firefighters, prison officers, search and rescue personnel and custody officers.
The current six-month maximum sentence for common assault will be doubled to a year for the new crime created by the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which will also enable judges to increase terms given to people committed for a range of other crimes where the involvement of emergency services was an “aggravating factor”.
Chris Bryant MP, the Labour MP who introduced the Bill, said: “The growing tide of attacks on emergency workers – including ambulance workers, NHS staff, fire officers, prison officers and police – is a national scandal. All too often attackers get away with little more than a slap on the wrist.”
Kevin Brandstatter, GMB National Officer, added “It is difficult to put into words what this will mean for the hundreds of thousands of emergency service workers who have been assaulted in the line of duty. Action is long overdue. At least eight ambulance workers are attacked every day, and the threat of violence is forcing many experienced professionals out of the NHS.”
Ambulance technician and GMB member Sarah Kelly, who played a critical role in securing a change to the law after she was assaulted while on duty, said: “The work must start now with the Government recognising the situation and actively working with ambulance employers and trade unions to better understand what resources are required to prevent these attacks. The law change is long overdue but I hope we rarely need to use it.”
UNISON lead officer for ambulance staff Alan Lofthouse said: “Ambulance staff are dedicated to serving the public and saving lives. Physical and sexual attacks are on the increase leaving ambulance staff traumatised. This makes already stressful jobs almost unbearable, leading many to leave a job they love.”
Home Office figures show there were more than 26,000 assaults against police officers in England and Wales during 2017-18 and more than 17,000 on NHS staff, although there is a lot of underreporting. There has also been an 18 per cent increase in assaults against firefighters in the past two years.